Friday, May 9, 2014

Oil Kings one win from title; Americans looking for head coach

F Bernhard Keil (Kamloops, 2010-11) signed a one-year contract with the Schwenninger Wild Wings (Germany, DEL). This season with Straubing and Red Bull Munich (both Germany, DEL), he had three goals in 35 games. While on loan to Kaufbeuren (Germany, DEL2), he had two assists in three games.
The news release from the Tri-City Americans announcing the dumping of head coach Jim Hiller hadn’t been out there too long when an email arrived.
It contained one line: “Bob Tory told me that this guy (Hiller) was the best in the WHL!”
Obviously, Tory’s opinion changed because he announced Friday that the Americans wouldn’t “be extending the contract of head coach Jim Hiller.”
Like a good politician, Tory dropped the bombshell on a Friday afternoon.
“Jim is a good person and coach and we are thankful for all of the contributions he's made to our club,” Tory said in the news release. “However, at this time, we feel we need a fresh face and voice moving forward to lead our team.”
Hiller spent five seasons as the Americans’ head coach, putting up 210 victories in 360 starts. As the news release points out, Hiller had four seasons with at least 40 victories, won two U.S. Division titles and had a .619 winning percentage.
Only Don Nachbaur (229) won more regular-season games as an Americans head coach. Nachbaur did that in 423 games, 63 more than Hiller.
“Hiller also departs as the Americans' all-time leader in playoff wins (29), playoff winning percentage (0.509) and playoff series wins (6),” the news release continues. “After his 2009-10 squad advanced to the WHL final for the first time in franchise history, Hiller also earned the Dunc McCallum Memorial Trophy as WHL Coach of the Year . . .”
Hiller’s Americans won 47, 44, 50, 40 and, this season, 29 games. This season, in what was considered a rebuilding/reloading season, the Americans finished eighth in the Western Conference and lost a first-round series in five games to the Kelowna Rockets, who had finished 40 points in front of them.
“There still is a lot of work to be done,” Tory told Annie Fowler of the Tri-City Herald. “The last two years were not up to the standard we would have liked. Our young guys will be that much better. We are moving back in the right direction.”
If you read the Americans’ news release, it makes you wonder why Tri-City is tying a can to Hiller, instead of rewarding him with a multiyear deal. What more, you ask yourself, could a coach have done?
Asked by text if he is talking with Mike Williamson, Tory replied: “Have lots of interest. Difficult decision.”
Williamson, of course, was dumped by the Calgary Hitmen in mid-April.
With Williamson in his fifth season as head coach, the Hitmen put up 103 points in the regular season, but then lost a first-round series in six games to the Kootenay Ice, who were 20 points poorer over the regular season.
“We just didn’t feel our hockey club reached the level it should’ve,” Calgary GM Mike Moore told George Johnson of the Calgary Herald. “As evidenced in the Kootenay series and at other times during the year. Mike did a lot of good things but the level of (success) wasn’t where we felt the level of talent should get to.”
So what we have here are two excellent young coaches -- Hiller is 44; Williamson is 41 -- out of work, one because a new voice is needed, despite a .619 winning percentage over the last five seasons, the other because a 103-point regular season followed by a first-round six-game exit isn’t good enough.
The bars have been raised awfully high in Kennewick, Wash., and in Calgary.
Someone is going to have to remind me again (1) why anyone would want to get into the coaching game, and (2) how many teams win the last game of the playoffs?
To paraphrase Waylon and Willie, “Mammas, don’t let your babies grow up to be hockey coaches.”
On the other side of the coin, those teams who have coaching vacancies now have some awfully good resumes to look through.

1. With the sudden fall from grace of head coach Jim Hiller with the Tri-City Americans, there are four WHL teams without head coaches. The Americans, Calgary Hitmen, Saskatoon Blades and Vancouver Giants all are searching.

2. This is the most bizarre offseason in terms of WHL coaching moves that I can recall, and the season isn’t even over yet. . . . Kamloops ended up with Don Hay as its head coach, even though the Blazers have yet to admit publicly that they have parted company with Dave Hunchak. . . . Hay, the winningest active coach in the league, left Vancouver after 10 years with the Giants. The Giants didn’t ask for compensation, despite Hay having one year left on his contract. It seems that Hay and general manager Scott Bonner were barely on speaking terms. One source told me: “There were very few conversations between the two, even though their offices were right next to one another.” According to another source, “For the last few years, Don entered through the back of the Coliseum, and Scott through the front office. I don't think business has worked like that at the Coliseum since the days of the WHA when the Blazers and the Canucks shared the barn!”

3. Yes, Dave Hunchak is looking for work, too, and it’s not that long ago (2010-11) when the Moose Jaw Warriors won 40 games with him at the controls.

4. Fans who aren’t too close to the game may not know the name of Michael Futa. But the co-director of amateur scouting with the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings has been a person of interest to teams looking to fill front-office vacancies. That included the Vancouver Canucks, who need a general manager. But Futa is off the market after the Kings promoted him Friday to president of hockey operations and director of player personnel. . . . This is a great move for the Kings, and it’s nice to see someone rewarded for good work.

5. Hockey has a concussion problem and it’s not going anywhere. Read this piece right here by Sportsnet’s Mark Spector and don’t think for a minute that it doesn’t apply to various levels of hockey, not just the NHL.

6. F Tim Bozon of the Kootenay Ice, who battled meningitis through the month of March, continues to rehab in France. The Montreal Canadiens selected him in the third round of the NHL’s 2012 draft and his goal is to be at their training camp in September. He has told Le Matin that he has lost 16 pounds and still suffers from vertigo and memory loss.

7. The 2019 Memorial Cup? Forget about it Red Deer. Lethbridge, you’ve got no chance. . . . Terry Jones of the Edmonton Sun reports that the 2019 Memorial Cup will be held in Edmonton. Seriously. . . . Of course, a host WHL city has yet to be decided upon for the 2016 Memorial Cup. . . . Jones’ column is right here. . . . The Memorial Cup hasn’t been decided in Alberta since 1974 when the Regina Pats won it at the Corral in Calgary.

Michael Scissons, who has worked in Saskatoon’s front office since 2003, has been moved by the Blades into the newly created position of vice-president of business operations. Scissons joined the Blades in 2003-04 as an account executive. Most recently, he has been director of sales. . . . According to a Blades news release, in his new role, “Scissons will continue to guide the Blades business operations, maintaining contact on a daily basis with both corporate partners and season-ticket holders.”
In Guelph, the Storm booked its berth in the Memorial Cup with a 4-3 victory over the North Bay Battalion. . . . The Storm won the best-of-seven final, 4-1, to earn its first OHL championship since 2004. . . . North Bay took a 3-2 lead into the last five minutes of the third period, only to lose it on two goals by F Kirby Rychel. . . . Rychel tied the score at 15:31 and then got the winner with 26.3 seconds left in the third period. . . . The 2014 Memorial Cup opens in London, Ont., on Friday with the host Knights meeting the QMJHL champion.
QMJHLIn Baie-Comeau, the Drakkar closed to within a victory of their first championship with a 6-5 victory over the Val-d’Or Foreurs. . . . The Drakkar leads the best-of-seven final, 3-2, with Game 6 in Val-d’Or on Sunday. . . . If needed, Game 7 would be played Tuesday in Baie-Comeau. . . . F Valentin Zykov had two goals and three assists for the winners. His second goal, at 7:05 of the third period, gave his guys a 6-4 lead. . . . Baie-Comeau captain Felix Girard was 21-for-34 on faceoffs. He took part in 34 of the game’s 72 draws. . . . The Drakkar lost last season’s final to the Halifax Mooseheads in five games.
Mike Haviland has stepped down after one season as head coach of the AHL’s Hershey Bears in order to become the head coach of the Colorado College Tigers. Haviland also has coached in the AHL with the Norfolk Admirals and Rockford IceHogs. He has a 176-104-36 record as an AHL head coach. . . . With the Tigers, Haviland replaces Scott Owens, who resigned in April after 15 seasons there.

THE FOURTH ROUND (best-of-seven; all times local):
WHL final, for the Ed Chynoweth Cup
(x - if necessary)
(All games televised live by Shaw)
(All games televised on delayed basis by Root Sports)
PORTLAND (2, West) vs. Edmonton (1, East)
(Edmonton leads, 3-2)
Season series: Portland, 0-0-1; Edmonton, 1-0-0.
Saturday: Edmonton 2 at Portland 5 (10,947)
Sunday: Edmonton 1 at Portland 3 (10,645)
Tuesday: Portland 2 at Edmonton 3 (6,799)
Wednesday: Portland 0 at Edmonton 2 (7,859)
Friday: Edmonton 3 at Portland 2 (10,947)
Sunday: Portland at Edmonton, 4 p.m.
x-Monday: Edmonton at Portland, 7 p.m. (Memorial Coliseum)
Portland: None.
Edmonton: None.

In Portland, the Edmonton Oil Kings won their third straight game to close to within one victory over the WHL title as they beat the defending-champion Winterhawks, 3-2. . . . Game 6 is scheduled for Edmonton on Sunday (Mother’s Day), at 4 p.m. . . . The Oil Kings are looking for their second championship in three seasons. . . . These two teams have met in each of the last three finals. . . . Portland F Paul Bittner opened the scoring at 15:28 of the first period. At that point, Portland had outscored Edmonton 8-0 in first periods. . . . It was Bittner’s fourth goal in the championship final. . . . That also was Portland’s first goal in 131:58, or since early in the first period of Game 3. . . . Edmonton F Edgars Kulda tied it on a PP at 18:27 of the first period. . . . The Oil Kings took the lead when D Griffin Reinhart scored at 2:11 of the second period and then stretched it to two on F Henrik Samuelsson’s goal at 7:39. . . . Samuelsson, who scored two goals through the first three rounds, has four scores in the final. . . . D Mathew Dumba got Portland to within one, at 3-2, with 1:45 left in the third period, but the Winterhawks weren’t able to equalize. . . . Edmonton G Tristan Jarry was outstanding. He stopped 37 shots, including all 18 he faced in the second period. . . . Portland G Corbin Boes turned aside 27 shots. . . . Edmonton was 1-for-5 on the PP; Portland was 0-for-4 and now has one PP goal in its last 15 opportunities. . . . The Winterhawks had won their last 25 home games. They hadn’t tasted defeat on home ice since dropping a 3-2 decision to the Victoria Royals on Jan. 4. . . . Interestingly, if this series goes to a Game 7, each of the final three games will have been played in a different facility. Last night, they played in Portland’s Moda Center. On Sunday, Game 6 will be played in Edmonton’s Rexall Place. On Monday, if needed, it’s back to Portland but Game 7 would be played in Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Post-game tweets from Scott Sepich (@SSepich):
Edmonton D Griffin Reinhart: “"We weren't playing as structured (in first 2 games), now we're trying to frustrate them and wear them down.“
Portland GM/head coach Mike Johnston: "If we repeat that game, we'll be OK in Game 6. I thought our energy was good and our attack was good."
Johnston: "We had 7 or 8 chances where we shot it over the net. We had 17 chances in the 2nd period, you have to put a couple of them away."
Edmonton F Henrik Samuelsson: "We're playing a little safer, making the easy plays, not trying to force passes through the seam."

From WHL Facts (@WHLFacts): “50% - Through 18 WHL Final games between the @EdmOilKings and @pdxwinterhawks, each team has now won 9.”
From Sunaya Sapurji (@sunayas) of Yahoo! Sports: “France has 18,041 registered hockey players (total). Also 129 rinks (total) in the country.”
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